Eat on the Wild Side

Best wildlife refuges for dining al fresco

The Midwest’s Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge on the northern edge of the Ozark foothills was established in 1947.

The United States' national wildlife refuges are becoming even more popular destinations for vacationers looking to spend some time outdoors. Surveyed visitors to national wildlife refuges in 2010 and 2011 were favorably impressed with the recreational opportunities, education, and services on these public lands, according to a recently released national survey.

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The peer-reviewed survey, commissioned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and designed, conducted, and analyzed by researchers with the U.S. Geological Survey, evaluated responses from more than 10,000 adult visitors surveyed at 53 of the country’s 556 national wildlife refuges between July 2010 and November 2011.

The National Wildlife Refuge System is the U.S.'s premier system of public lands and waters set aside to conserve animals and their habitats. And they are popular places for visitors — more than 45 million people spent time in national wildlife refuges in 2011.

Among the most popular refuge activities visitors reported were wildlife observation, bird watching, photography, hiking, and auto-tour-route driving, which are part of the six priority public uses designated in the Refuge Improvement Act of 1997, which also includes hunting, fishing, and environmental education.

Some refuges even make the perfect spot for a picnic. While picnicking is not available in all parks, it is possible to brings snacks or eat meals at some of the nation's most beautiful wildlife parks. Just be sure to not feed the animals and dispose of your trash responsibly.